The Colts' season is likely lost.
That's just the truth. I'll preach until the cows come home how fans shouldn't give up on a team, but the fact is that the Colts' season is going to be painful.
While Colts' fans should resign themselves to this fact and get over it (as opposed to whining about it), that doesn't mean that the season won't have it's uses. One thing that should be interesting to watch for is how the coaching staff adapts the team for the next year. While I've reiterated that the Colts can't change too much (at least, if they're planning on Peyton Manning playing next season), that doesn't mean the coaching staff can just sit back and not try to win football games.
I don't know if any coach could make this team winners for this season. I doubt there are any. But Caldwell has a chance to prove himself, to show that he actually can bring something to this organization. While I can't fault him too much for losses this season (I expect anyway, who knows?), I would like to see him utilize the players we have in an effective way. And with that, I move to the question that titles this article: Are Donald Brown and Jerry Hughes useless? I think the obvious answer is no.
Personally, I believe both players were bad draft picks. However, that doesn't mean that the Colts can't glean some use from them. Donald Brown has shown an electric ability when given space to run. He's also shown an incredible ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Jerry Hughes has great speed, and has shown flashes of brilliance when rushing from a standing position, as opposed to the normal three-point stance.
So, why are the Colts' even attempting to utilize those talents? They may not be suited for every-down type of players, but that doesn't mean they're worthless. However, the Colts' coaching staff is treating them that way, keeping Brown on the bench for the first two weeks, and giving Hughes very limited action against the Browns.
This isn't going to help the Colts. The Colts can try to utilize Brown and Hughes' natural talents, so why don't they?
For example, look what Sean Payton managed to do with Reggie Bush. Bush wasn't able to carry the load as a typical running back, but was incredibly effective as a gadget back. He functioned as a back who could catch the ball out of the backfield, line up at WR, or take a pitch/screen pass for 10 yards (not to mention return punts/kicks, but I don't know if Brown is capable of that or not, the Colts haven't tried him there).
With the Colts' pass offense sputtering, why not try Brown in some of these roles? Bring Brown in on third downs, give Kerry Collins a security blanket. Give Brown the ball on a screen pass, or line him up outside. Do what you can to give Kerry Collins an easy target. If Brown gets the ball in space, he can produce.
As for Jerry Hughes, many draft experts had Hughes as a linebacker for a 3-4 defense. Bill Polian said after the draft that they could see Hughes in a 'joker' role rushing the passer. So why then, haven't the Colts tried to use this talent as is best suited to him? You can keep giving him limited reps at DE, hoping that he develops through practice, or you can can tweak the defense a little bit to try to utilize the talent you have to its fullest potential.
It's not like the Colts' haven't thought about it. They used Hughes like this at times in training camp, and the reports were that Hughes looked very good in that role. But when the preseason games came around, Philip Wheeler was the only one to get a shot at the role (I also think the coaches could try to use that in the regular season, but it probably won't happen).
Without Peyton Manning, the team can afford to take some risks, try something new. Do whatever you can to get the most you can out of this group of players. If the coaches aren't trying to get some production out of these first round picks, then my entire position on keeping Hughes and Brown goes out the window. Keeping those players is the right choice, assuming that the coaches will at least try to get something out of their first round talent.
It's not like the Colts have anything to lose at this point. Why not take a chance?